Supporters of Secretariat hope to have colt's 1973 Preakness time changed

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Secretariat's legend hardly needs bolstering.

But, his supporters feel, the race he ran on the third Saturday in May at Pimlico back in 1973 does require revisiting.

The Maryland Racing Commission agrees, and will consider a proposal to change Secretariat's Preakness time during its meeting next week. At issue is whether the colt had set a track record — as he had already done at the Kentucky Derby and would do at the Belmont.

While hardcore racing fans have long felt that the strapping chestnut colt did, indeed, run the fastest Preakness to date, supporters — including owner Penny Chenery and Maryland Jockey Club president Tom Chuckas — are seeking to have the record officially changed as the 40th anniversary of his Triple Crown win nears.

Leonard Lusky, an assistant to Chenery who worked with Disney on the 2010 Secretariat film, plans to present between one and two hours worth of evidence. He'll use video, computer analysis, testimony from a CBS executive and forensic experts and even an old Baltimore Sun photograph — he combed through 2,000 pictures before finding the right one, he said — to show that they've ascertained the proper time within three one-hundreths of a second.

"I don't mean to be cryptic," Lusky said Tuesday, "but we don't want to reveal too much now. We want to show it all to the commission so they can be sure, sure, sure when they make the decision."

The matter of how quickly Secretariat traversed the 1 3/16 mile course at Pimlico has been an issue since literally seconds after the race. The electronic scoreboard showed 1:55, while two separate hand clockers from the Daily Racing Form showed 1:53 2/5 (the publication has stuck with that time in its records ever since), beating the previous record of 1:54 set by Canonero II in the 1971 Preakness. While track officials admitted that the electronic scoreboard had malfuntioned, they reverted to the time clocked by a track employee, 1:54 2/5.

Chenery challenged the ruling later that summer but was told the rules prevented a change from being made. The issue has simmered ever since. She again made a push to have her horse recognized in time for the 25th anniversary of his Triple Crown, which resulted in the Maryland Racing Commission re-writing its laws to allow adjustment to a disputed race time with sufficient evidence. Though the group considered the issue in 1999, no change was made.

"It just sort of dropped," said J. Michael Hopkins, who has worked for the commission since 1984 and is now the executive director.

As part of his work for Disney, Lusky gathered multiple tapings of the 1973 Preakness that would be used to help the director accurately re-create the race. Watching those convinced him that it was time to take up the issue again, and Chuckas, when approached earlier this year, agreed to help, Lusky said.

"During the last 40 years, video technology has been accepted in other professional sports as a supportive mechanism for officials to ensure fairness and accuracy in their decisions," Chuckas said in a news release. "It is important for horse racing and the record books to confirm the correct time in this historical race. It is the appropriate thing to do."

Doubts about the validity of video previously presented — mostly whether it runs in precise real time — will be mitigated by the presentation, Lusky said.

Secretariat broke a 25-year drought between Triple Crowns — the second longest ever, to the current span of 34 years — and ushered in a golden era of horse racing as Seattle Slew (1977) and Affirmed (1978) would complete the trifecta a few years later. But while his track records at Churchill Downs and Belmont Park still stand, he'd be tied with three other horses for the Preakness race record (1985 winner Tank's Prospect, 1996 winner Louis Quatorze and 2007 champion Curlin) and would have retroactively had his track mark broken in 1991 by Farma Way, who ran a 1:52 2/5 in the Pimlico Special.

Lusky and Chenery seek only to add further validation to what is already recognized as one of the best five-week stretches for a 3-year-old horse in the history of the sport.

"For me, revisiting this dispute on a new day is matter of resolution — for historians, for sportswriters and for racing fans," Chenery said. "Their voices are supported by sound evidence, and they deserve to be heard."

ckorman@baltsun.com

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